Planning and booking private shore excursions can not only save money, but more importantly save you from waiting in long lines, herded like lemmings in and out of €˜authentic’ reenactments and opportunities to buy the finest gift items (reproduced in China) that you’ve ever seen. (Yes, I’m jaded; I’ve been on one too many tours geared for a third grade intelligence level.) As cruise lines expand, building larger and more elaborate cruise ships, the demand for interesting and entertaining port excursions increases as well. Often times thousands of passengers pour into one small cruise port and completely change the ambiance and dynamics of the town. To find any genuine semblance of the real character of the area, you’ll need to venture forth away from the venues built for tourists. It’s a worthy goal to find a guide who is enthusiastic, articulate and well versed about the area you are visiting.
So how do you find small group touring or private guiding in a cruise port? Read on to find all the resources you’ll need.
Step 1 – Visit your cruise line’s website and scour their brochures to read all about the cruise excursions they offer and at what price. If you’ve sent away for the Tourist Bureau’s visitor’s guide for the area you’re sailing to, that’s a great place to look for local independent tour companies and guides.
Step 2 – Visit PortReviews.com and get the skinny on what other cruisers have said about the excursions that interest you.
Step 3 – Time for serious research. Visit some of the following private shore excursion websites to read up on excursions available and to comparison shop:
Step 4 - Now that you are well versed in what’s available, choose three excursions that are your ‘must see’ items. Compare those three adventures for price, content and group size among the online sites and the cruise ship offerings and reserve at the best source.
IMPORTANT: If you reserve a shore excursion with anyone but your cruise line YOU are responsible for arriving back to the cruise ship in plenty of time before it’s scheduled departure. Be sure to double check the exact hours you will be in port. If you are delayed, the ship will depart without you and you will have to make your way to it’s next port on your own. You may want to advise the front desk what private guiding company you are out with in case they need to determine your whereabouts.
Step 5 – On days that you haven’t reserved a tour in advance, consider teaming up with some new friends you’ve met on board and hiring a local taxi to take you to the sites that interest you. This works particularly well in the Caribbean where taxi charges are well marked in cruise ports and lines of taxis are waiting to greet each ship.
How ever you decide to explore your cruise ports, I hope you have the opportunity to meet some local citizens and get a glimpse of their lives away from the hubbub of the cruise terminal. After all, that’s really why you traveled all that distance.